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Owning His Gay Identity -- at 15 Years Old

Video
Saro Harvey, 15, of Arlington, Va., talks about his experience as an openly gay teenager. Video by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post

The conversation turned to Saro. He's not a member of the club and has never attended a meeting.

A 17-year-old senior said a ninth-grade girl approached her lunch table one day. "She kept referring to our very flamboyant freshman -- everyone knows who he is -- as that 'gay kid' and kept talking about how much she hated him and if he came up to her she would freak out."

Another 17-year-old, a junior, said he heard "a mean comment" about Saro. "Someone said, 'He's so gay, he doesn't even fit in with the [anti-gay slur].' "

Doris Jackson, the principal of Wakefield, said the school does not tolerate bullying for any reason. "To me, it's more than having a policy and enforcing it. It's establishing an environment of tolerance of everyone," she said, adding that the school even provides a separate restroom for a transgender student so the person is not forced to use the girl's room or boy's room. "When we say we are very diverse, people think racially. But we are diverse racially, culturally, [by] sexual orientation and socio-economic level. Being gay here doesn't set you apart. You're just another kid with something about you that is unique."

It was at Wakefield that Saro determined that he was gay and not bisexual, and where he started incorporating bright color into a wardrobe of mostly girl's clothes. When he is later told about the comments that emerged about him at the GSA meeting, he laughs -- not nervously, but loudly.

"I tell my friends all the time, I'm like, 'What makes them think talking about me is going to make me change who I am?' " Saro says. "They can talk about me. They can do anything. But I'm still Saro. It doesn't bother me."

Even when he wore baggy pants and clothes in neutral gray and black in middle school, classmates questioned him. And before he ever posted the word "Queer," prominently and in rainbow colors, on his MySpace page, insults were slung.

"I swear I think I was in second grade and this boy, he was like, 'Are you gay?' And I was like, 'I don't know what that is,' " Saro says. "I've always been feminine but just never knew what it was."

Samantha says the stares bother her more than him. She was with him in Baltimore on a field trip this year when several teenagers called him names and then, seeking to pick a fight, attempted to shove their way past the teachers onto the school bus.

"I think you just don't even think about it. You don't even question it," Samantha says to Saro. "If you sat there and thought about everything people said and would take it in, you wouldn't be the person you are. You would be depressed every day going to school. You wouldn't want to be you."

"I wouldn't be Saro."

"Yeah, you wouldn't be Saro."


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